Roy Exum: As One Views Heaven

Sunday, December 3, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There have been a numerous times in my 50 years of writing where I’ve come across copies of stories I have written that are suddenly introduced bearing another writer’s name instead of my own. It doesn’t really bother me but, if I can, I send the plagiarist a nice note, say how much I enjoyed the story back when I wrote it, and include a copy of the original. A lot of times they will reply to say that my byline had been knocked off somewhere down the trail – that happens more than you think. In such a case, they should properly attribute it to “author unknown.” Another way to “exchange ideas” with a ghost is to admit: “I did not write this but you need to know …” But that’s just me.

Plagiarism is unethical for those of us who hang around in the Fourth Estate the world over, so most are quick to apologize or ask forgiveness. News reporters lose their jobs and their futures if caught but it all comes back to a writer’s values and integrity. I always send back a “let’s–be-friends-anyway” note and I promptly forget about it.

It has now been 20 years since Brian Moore, a standout scholar and gifted athlete in Ohio, was killed in a car accident. After he hit a utility pole, he worked his way out of the wreck, only to be killed when he accidentally stepped on a downed power line.

Two or three weeks before the crash, he was in charge of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting and there he read an essay he claimed that he had written called “The Room.” As the story “got legs” and has raced across the Internet ever since, it took about two years for Josh Harris to come forth and claim he wrote it. Josh even has the magazine where the story first appeared. So, while acknowledging Brian’s unfortunate mistake, it would become sacrilege if we allowed Brian Moore’s mistake to obliterate what Josh Harris believes may happen in the room of a cabin next to the Pearly gates. I love this:

* * *

“THE ROOM” – written by Josh Harris and read by the late Brian Moore

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endless in either direction, had very different headings.

As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Brian Moore.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I have betrayed.” The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed at.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve yelled at my brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.”

I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I have listened to,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music but more by the vast time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!”

In insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh.

And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand. And then the tears came. I began to weep.

Sobs so deep that they hurt. They started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again.

He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

* * *

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

If you feel the same way please forward it to as many people as you can so the love of Jesus will touch their lives. My "People I shared the gospel with" file just got bigger, how about yours?

You don't have to share this with anybody, no one will know whether you did or not, but you will know. So will He. Selah.

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